I met Tom, one of the shepherds at my church, for coffee on Monday afternoon just to talk about life. We were talking about how to be effective leaders of the congregation we attend, and he made the comment, “We can have all the right philosophies and it doesn’t mean anything if we’re not doing anything about it. You don’t get credit for talking about it.”
Immediately, I was reminded me of an article I’d seen on Facebook earlier that day about how children from Christian families are less altruistic than children from non-religious families. In fairness, there are some flaws with the original study, which some articles are using to question the validity of the conclusion. But the fact that this is even up for discussion should be troubling to us. The fact that it’s not unbelievably obvious that Christians are more loving, sacrificial, and selfless than other people speaks poorly of us.
Not that non-Christians can’t be loving and sacrificial. I have great respect for those who don’t claim Jesus as Lord, but who make it a habit to act selflessly and sacrificially for others. But lowering yourself in service to others is kind of the primary teaching of the guy we named ourselves after. For us to claim to follow Christ and to not be known for the way we love people is to take the name of Christ in vain.
Churches talk a great game. And there are many Christians and churches that love really well. But if we’re at the point where the best way we can show how altruistic we are is by arguing statistics to debunk a study, maybe we’re not doing enough to actually love our neighbors.
In John’s Gospel, Jesus tells his followers, “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”
What Jesus is saying here is that Christians ought to love so fully that it will be their identifying characteristic. That followers of Jesus are first and foremost, sacrificial in their love for their neighbor.
The fact that there’s even a study that suggests that Christian families aren’t as altruistic as non-religious families represents a massive failure by the church to uphold Jesus’ command.
So what do we do about it?
We can preach more sermons. We can post more Facebook statuses about how important it is to love our neighbor. We can write more blog posts about it. But like Tom said to me on Monday afternoon – “You don’t get credit for talking about it.”
In Matthew 25, Jesus talks about the judgment of the nations, where he separates the righteous from the unrighteous. The righteous are the ones who fed the hungry, clothed the naked, visited the sick and imprisoned. Those are the ones that enter into eternal life – the ones who loved their neighbors. Not the ones who talked about loving their neighbors, but the ones who actually did something about it.
So maybe rather than trying to dispute a study by arguing statistics, we should let that study galvanize us into action. Maybe rather than disproving it by complicated statistical analysis, we should disprove it by getting out and doing something to love our community.
I’m sure there’s a food bank you could volunteer at this week. I bet there’s a homeless guy on the corner of that busy intersection you drive through everyday that you could take out to lunch. I would imagine you’ve got a friend or a coworker that would benefit from an encouraging note today.
Don’t just like a Facebook post about how important it is to love. Don’t let yourself get away with only shouting “Amen” when someone tells you to love your neighbor. Don’t come up with another excuse to put off acting in love.
Don’t be content just to argue that the study is flawed. Prove that it’s wrong by going out of your way to serve your neighbor. Prove that you’re a follower of Jesus by the way you love the people around you.
It’s not what we say that reveals we follow Jesus. It’s how we serve the people around us. So find a way to serve. Because you don’t get credit for talking about it.